Using drones to provide life-saving medication in Ghana

The first hospital to use the service was New Tafo, a government hospital in Accra.
A staff member prepares a drone for the delivery of medical supplies at the drone delivery service base run by operator Zipline in Omenako, 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Accra on April 23, 2019. – Ghana launched a fleet of drones on April 24, 2019 to carry medical supplies to remote areas, with Ghana’s President declaring it would become the “world’s largest drone delivery service.” The craft are part of an ambitious plan to leapfrog problems of medical access in a country with poor roads. The drones have been flying test runs with blood and vaccines, but the project was officially inaugurated Wednesday at the main drone base in Omenako, 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Accra. Operator Zipline, a US-based company, said the three other sites should be up and running by the end of 2019. The drones are planned to ferry 150 different medicines, blood, and vaccines to more than 2,000 clinics serving over 12 million people — roughly 40 percent of the population. (Photo by Ruth McDowall / AFP)

Ghana’s drone service which launched in April, makes on-demand emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products and lifesaving medications to health facilities in the country, 24 hours daily.

The first hospital to use the service was New Tafo, a government hospital about two hours north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The service was brought to Ghana by Silicon Valley Company Zipline.

Medical superintendent Kobena Wriedu said the hospital had received at least 25 drone deliveries in the past month, with a handful coming in emergency situations much quicker than road transport.

Staff members prepare a drone for the delivery of medical supplies at the drone delivery service base run by operator Zipline in Omenako, 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Accra on April 23, 2019. – Ghana launched a fleet of drones on April 24, 2019 to carry medical supplies to remote areas, with Ghana’s President declaring it would become the “world’s largest drone delivery service.” (Photo by Ruth McDowall / AFP)

By the end of the year, an additional three centres are set to be opened across Ghana. Combined, they will provide deliveries to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people, making up to 600 delivery flights a day on behalf of the Ghanaian government, under a contract worth $12.5 million over four years.

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The Centre in Omenako where the drones come from has a cold storage facility for the blood and medicines to be stored. Workers watch the screens as orders come through and quickly fill the orders and assemble and launch the drones. They get the orders from health care workers by text message.

Nurses open boxes with medical supplies delivered by Zipline drones at the New Tafo Government Hospital, in eastern Ghana. (Photo by Ruth McDowall / AFP)

Ghana’s services are still in the early stages, with only four health facilities using it so far. The Omenako Centre’s fulfilment operations coordinator, Samuel Akuffo, said the service would prove its worth as Ghana starts to see heavy rain for the rainy season. The drones can fly in all weather conditions, and over roads that vehicles might not be able to pass in heavy rain.

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